Four main contentious parades all banned for first time
FOR the first time since the formation of the Parades Commission, four of the most contentious marches in Northern Ireland have all been banned.
Set up following violence around Drumcree in Portadown, the body has blocked almost all return parades along contested routes over the Twelfth period this year.
While some have been banned for several years, other rulings represent a gradual decline in the number of return marches permitted.
The Drumcree march has been banned from Garvaghy Road since 1998, with Orangemen still holding a weekly protest.
The Ormeau Road in south Belfast was also the scene of violence for many years, in a dispute over parades on a contested section of the lower Ormeau.
However, in recent years there has been calm in the area.
In August 2005 there were three days of violence associated with the annual Whiterock parade, which spread across the north after the Orange Order called people onto the streets when it was banned from a stretch of the Springfield Road in west Belfast.
Gunmen opened fire on police who returned fire with live rounds. British soldiers were also called in to assist officers, the last year the army were involved in parading disputes.
A compromise was later reached where 50 members of the Orange Order would pass through the security gates at Workman Avenue and onto the contested nationalist stretch to meet the rest of the parade passing through the old Mackies factory site.
However, during a parade last month Orangemen were banned completely from passing through Workman Avenue, with the commission citing a lack of dialogue and poor behaviour of marchers in previous years.
The watchdog has permitted a morning parade next Tuesday but banned the return march.
By far the most contested march in recent years has been in Ardoyne, where Orangemen have been banned from returning along the Crumlin Road since 2013.
Regular protests, which also saw a permanent camp set up at Twaddell Avenue, have cost more than £20 million to police.
A deal to end the dispute and allow the three Orange lodges to complete the return leg collapsed last month after one of the lodges objected to the terms.
Earlier this week the commission again ruled against allowing the return march but agreed to a morning parade along with 100 supporters past the interface.
A leading Orangeman last night claimed recent rulings are evidence that the commission has "taken the place of nationalist protestors".
Rev Mervyn Gibson said new legislation to deal with parades is urgently needed.
"The Parades Commission is the only body in the UK that is unaccountable - if we object to a ruling we can only challenge the procedure and not the outcome and that's wrong," he said.
"We need fair legislation. It may not always go our way, but at least it would be transparent and accountable."
The Parades Commission said last night: "The majority of parade organisers and communities share the common objective of peaceful parading and protest with the result that the vast majority of the approximate 2,500 loyalist/unionist parades each year are not considered by the commission, and do not have any conditions imposed by the commission.
"For the 3.6% of parades which do have conditions imposed, these conditions reflect the impacts of the parade and protest upon community relations, community life, public disorder and the rights of others.
"Conditions include route, music and other conduct requirements."